The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon

In Theatres: 
Jun 24, 2016
Running Time: 
117 minutes

Nicolas Winding Refn is no stranger to making audiences feel uncomfortable in their seats. Whether it’s the brutal violence depicted in Drive or the awkwardness of the mother/son relationship in Only God Forgives, he has a way of shocking people when they least expect it. The Neon Demon is no different as it visually and audibly tease your senses with one of the weirdest stories I’ve seen this year.


Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an aspiring model who has just moved to Los Angeles to begin her career in the fashion industry. Her flawless beauty immediately draws the attention of some of the top designers, and she quickly rises through the ranks as the young new “it” girl, much to the jealousy of other models. She does manage to make a friend in Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who has seen it all. Still, as her fame increases so do her number of enemies and people trying to take advantage of her. It’s a cut-throat industry, and you have to be strong if you are going to survive.


The Neon Demon is a stunning film with flashy visuals and a melodious soundtrack that’ll draw you into its world and never let go. The model industry can be a strange world, made even stranger by the people that populate it. Jesse is this innocent girl who is thrown into the madness of it all like a minnow in a shark tank. While she looks fragile, Elle Fanning exudes this confidence that shows she has what it takes to make it.


Initially you have this tense fear towards the designers she’s working with. They tell her to lie about her age or to strip naked alone on a closed set. Models are seen as expendable so if one of the girls decides to say no they can be easily replaced. As the film progresses, you start to get the same feeling about the other models she’s chosen over. They’ve been working for years and just all of a sudden here comes this new girl to push them out? Not on their watch. Everyone is meant to creep you out so you’re constantly on edge, wondering not if but when something will happen to Jesse.


There are moments where the style completely envelops the story, however, and it can be somewhat difficult to follow. Scenes feel like they’re randomly inserted purely for shock value with little to no explanation. It can be confusing, especially when the film ramps things up in the third act. Maybe it’s a slight jab at the modeling industry itself, but the film definitely emphasizes style over substance.


The Neon Demon is an exhilarating and tense thriller that’ll leave you speechless. It’s what we’ve come to expect from Nicolas Winding Refn, but it still doesn’t make it any less shocking. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. His style is undeniably present and while the story is a little rough, the film emits a captivating glow you can’t help but take notice.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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